CW Hawes - Author

Book Review: Finder, The True Story of a Private Investigator

I love private detective novels. But the biographies and autobiographies of real private detectives I find equally fascinating. I have a small collection of these books.

Finder: The True Story Of A Private Investigator is the autobiography of Marilyn Greene, co-authored with Gary Provost. In the book, Marilyn Greene relates her early interest in law enforcement and her disappointment at being turned down by the New York state police.

Sometime later she developed an interest in search and rescue and tells us how she became one of the best finders of missing persons using her air-scent trained dog. Because of limitations imposed on her work as a finder, due to her being a volunteer, she moved into licensed private investigator work.

We also get a glimpse into the personal cost of her pursuing her passion. The break up of her marriage and problems with one of her sons.

Marilyn Greene’s story generates anger at the bias and prejudice she faced being a woman in a field dominated by men, as well as heartache at what she had to go through to pursue her dream.

In one instance, she was asked by the State Police to look for a missing person. She found the body in a short period of time only to find out that the police only asked her to get the parents off their backs. She wasn’t supposed to find someone they couldn’t.

Another time she faced police hostility because her dog found the missing person, when the police dogs couldn’t.

Once, she was hired by the mother of a missing person. She discovered that the son’s best friend had killed the man because he was bullying him. It was a heartbreaking story of the victim suffering once again. This time in the legal system. Ms Greene’s point was that many real life stories do not have happy endings.

The book itself does not read like a thriller. In fact, it’s somewhat dry. Yet it’s packed with information telling us how a real private detective worked back before everyone had laptops and smart phones.

I recommend giving Finder a read. I read the book some 25 years ago researching what real PIs were like in preparation for writing my first mystery. For me, the book was fascinating and stayed with me all these years. Recently, I bought a copy and re-read it. It’s a satisfying, real life tale. Give it a read!

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The 8-Fold Path – First Step: Limit Talking

Talking. Some of us love to talk. Others of us talk very little. My mother was a great talker. My dad can go for hours without saying a peep. And if we aren’t talking there are certainly those around us who are. Then again, often our mouths might not be moving but we are talking a mile a minute in our heads.

To live daily in the silence, we must limit the talking. To enjoy the physical and spiritual benefits of silence, we must rein in our desire to talk — both to others and to ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we have to give up being friendly. Heavens no! Silence produces joy and happiness. Which means we should be friendly, sharing that joy and happiness with others. Instead of talking, our entire demeanor should be radiating joy and happiness.

But isn’t talking being friendly, you may be asking. And, yes, it frequently is. I’m not saying to eliminate friendly or positive conversation. I’m saying we need to be mindful of our talking and eliminate the unnecessary chatter.

When I was on retreat and walking the grounds or was in the library, I’d encounter others. Sometimes I’d come across a work crew. The understanding was there was to be no talking. We waved and smiled. There was no verbal communication. Those physical signs communicated plenty. There was no need to add words.

The same in the workplace. How many conversations are just idle chatter or, worse, gossip? Talk that is not positive. Talk that is not life-giving.

The goal of living daily in the silence is to better your life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And the easiest way to begin is to cut down on talking. Talking out loud and talking in your head.

Talking creates a lot of noise. It is however very often necessary and we’ll address more about talking and situations in the next four posts. Today the goal is simply to cut down on the amount of chatter we are putting out of our mouths and allowing in our minds. So how do we do that?

The first step is to resolve to not talk unless you have to. Resolve is important. You are telling yourself what you want.

The second step is to listen more. If you are listening — really listening — then you can’t be talking. So when you say, “Hi! How are you?” Listen to what the person tells you. Tune in to the other person. Don’t let your brain run ahead with what you want to tell them.

The third step is to put the focus on the other person, and take the focus off yourself.

Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People tells us the secret in doing so is to let the other person talk to you. Get the other person to tell you about him or herself. Which means you have to truly listen. And listening means no talking.

Talking puts the focus on us. It’s an essentially selfish act. It strokes the ego. The real prize, though, is letting the other person talk and perhaps he or she will praise you.

Because no one listens anymore. If you stop talking and listen, people will notice — and they’ll think you’re the best person on the planet.

There are times when we must talk. But just as often opportunity will present itself so we can then let the other person do most of the talking.

Step four is to clear the talking in our heads. This is the more difficult step. Because our brain doesn’t like to sit around and do nothing. It will pick up a snippet of conversation and begin worrying it like a dog worrying a bone and suddenly you’ll find yourself getting all worked up or agitated or angry over something that is most likely nothing.

We will deal with the mind in more detail in steps seven and eight of the 8-Fold Path. For now, when your mind is running away with interior dialogue, stop focusing on the dialogue and instead focus on something around you: your work, the clouds, a picture you like, your breathing, anything that will for you break that mental chatter.

The path to silence in our everyday lives, and reaping the benefits silence gives,  begins with quieting our own noise machine: our mouths and our minds. For some of us, that will be relatively easy. For perhaps most of us, it will be a difficult task. Difficult, but not impossible. In fact, very possible.

As always, comments are welcome. Until next time, encourage others to talk while you listen. And don’t forget to redirect that chatter in your head. Cheers!

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Goldrush

We’re familiar with the California Gold Rush of 1848, or the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, or the Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 in Australia, or the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 in South Africa.

Today we are in the middle of another gold rush. It’s called self-publishing.

Every gold rush has a life-cycle that moves from low investment, high return to high investment, low return. The key to success is to get in big at the beginning of the cycle. When panning and placer mining are effective. Simple tools and big returns.

Amazon introduced the first Kindle on November 19, 2007. It sold for $399 US and sold out in 5 1/2 hours. On April 2, 2010 Apple released the iPad and sold 300,000 on the first day. These two devices were the game changer that spawned the self-publishing gold rush.

Authors such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath proved self-publishing was a viable money making enterprise. Now the ability to become a millionaire was for the first time in the hands of the self-published author. No need for agents and no need to battle publishers over draconian contracts. The gold rush had begun.

All one needed in those early and heady days of self-publishing was to offer your book permafree or for 99¢. And write your series as fast as possible.

By the time I got involved with self-publishing, in late 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like the old Smith-Barney commercials, if you want to make money writing books, you have to earn it.

As with any gold rush, once the easy money is gone, the people who begin to profit are the ones who do so at the miner’s expense. These are the people who sell things to the miners. The infamous middleman.

We see it in the self-publishing world. Writers, hungry for virtual shelf space and recognition, are making loads of money for the middlemen. Everywhere I read about this, I read figures such as $500 or $600 (or more) for editing, $500 for a cover, a couple hundred for formatting. And the list can go on.

That’s a lot of pressure to put one’s self under coming out of the gate. To date (2 years of receiving royalties), I’ve made $533 with virtually no advertising. I made back my investment in initial website cost and copyright fees. If I had editing and cover fees for 20 books to add to my expenses, I’d have to seriously consider becoming a middleman to “help” writers instead of being a writer.

The people who are getting the “easy” money today are:

  • Editors (often self-proclaimed)
  • Cover Artists (many using nothing more than stock photos and Photoshop or Gimp)
  • Review Services (like Kirkus and Reader’s Favorite)
  • Other authors “selling” the secret of their success so you can be successful (usually by means of high-priced courses)

And success hungry writers, dying to leave their day jobs, are shelling out big bucks for all of the above.

So let’s be honest, shall we? The easy money is gone. We now have to earn it.

How We Earn The Money

The path to self-publishing’s success in 2017 is not unlike trying to drop the ring into Mount Doom. It’s simple, but not easy.

I am obviously not making big bucks writing. But I’m retired. I’ve already dumped the day job. My monetary goal is a bit more humble. Nevertheless, the path is the same for all of us.

Mindset. The first thing we author-publishers must remember is that we are writers and publishers. We must think business. And the first thing we must realize is that self-employment ventures generally take 3 to 5 years to get established — if they even survive.

The second thing is we are direct mail marketers. The mailing list has now replaced permafree and 99¢ books as the building block of our business.

Mail order businesses can’t survive without their mailing lists. And we author-publishers are at base mail order businesses.

Once we have that mindset, we can start to go places. There is no quick money anymore. But there is money to be made. Mark Dawson makes around half a million from Amazon. A nice bit of pocket change that.

My Plan For Success

Plan your work and work your plan. Based on my observation of what universally works for authors, coupled with sage advice from the greats, this is my plan to work:

  1. Write well. This should go without saying and yet needs to be said. Write a good story. Many writers forget to do so.
  2. Write lots. Prolificity is key. No backlist = no sales over the long haul. All successful writers, traditionally published and self-published, say this.
  3. Publish frequently. The reading public that buys indie books tends to be voracious readers. Feed their habit. Frequent publishing also helps to keep you in the forefront of the reader’s mind.
  4. Follow Heinlein’s Writing Advice. The master said it best. In a nutshell — persevere.
  5. Build your mailing list. We are essentially mail order marketers. I wish someone had told me this 3 to 5 years ago. It makes sense, but the reality was obscured by the early success of writers in the Gold Rush. Now that the easy money is gone, the mailing list is the direct marketer’s — and indie author’s — best friend.
  6. Don’t resort to gimmicks. Today there so many authors I never heard of who claim to be New York Times, USA Today, or Amazon bestsellers that the claim is virtually meaningless. There are so many authors winning so many awards, the words “award winning” are equally meaningless. I’ve read plenty of crappy best-selling and award-winning books. And some that are really good that made nobody’s list and have received no award.

That’s my roadmap to success. Which for me is pretty modest. I don’t need beaucoup bucks. Anything from $25K to $50K a year will be just jim dandy. Those of you who need more than that to quit your day job — well, it’s just going to take a bit more work. But you’ll get there.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The 8-Fold Path: What is it?

The 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence is an 8-Step program for quieting our world — the world without and the world within.

The “Path” grew out of my own experience of silence and solitude retreats and my attempt to duplicate the peace and tranquility of the retreat environment after my return to daily life.

The 8-Fold Path does work, but as with any lifestyle change it takes work and perseverance to make sure it does work for you.

Why 8-Fold?

When I analyzed what made my retreats successful, I discovered 8 elements worked together to ensure that my time of silence and solitude was productive.

Those 8 elements are:

  1. Talk as little a possible
  2. Avoid situations where I’m obligated to talk
  3. If I must talk, be brief and to the point
  4. In group settings, remember even the fool appears wise when he says nothing
  5. My speech should be infused with the odor of silence
  6. Value silence over man-made sounds
  7. Focus on the immediate to promote silence
  8. Practice shikantaza during “downtime”

Notice the first five points of the path are about talking. If we control our talking, both verbally and mentally, those times we spend talking to ourselves, we can achieve a large measure of quietude with that alone.

Silence Starts With Us

We have total control over whether we live in a noisy world or a [relatively] silent world.

Bertrand Russell, the late British philosopher, wrote in his book The Conquest of Happiness:

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live.

We all want happiness. We all want tranquility in our lives. We all want to feel at peace with ourselves and the world. It is the quiet life that enables us to experience joy and happiness.

To achieve that quiet life for myself, I formulated The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence. And now I’m sharing it with you.

If we want to be happy, we must take charge of our lives. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the last of the great Stoic philosophers, wrote that life is what we make it to be. We are the key to what can be a fabulous future.

Daily

Russell notes a happy life must be … a quiet life. Implied in the word “life” is daily experience. This is not something one does once a month or only on the weekends. For the 8-Fold Path to produce its fruit, one must practice it every day and throughout the day to produce the silence, the quiet, which in turn produces joy and happiness.

In that sense, I’ll be the first to say silence does not come easily. Old habits die hard, as they say. However, persistence does win the day. And in a couple weeks you will begin to notice subtle differences. You might be calmer. Or less disturbed by people and situations around you. You might find your mind is less prone to chatter; less prone to worrying things, like a dog a bone.

 

The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence can gain for you that quiet life Russell wrote of and with it joy and happiness. And who doesn’t want that?

As always, your comments are welcome. Until next time, take time to enjoy the silence.

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Movie Review: The Before Trilogy

The plotless movie. The plotless novel. The plotless story. How can a movie or a work of literature have no plot? Well, the answer is simple. It can’t. All stories have a plot of some kind, because the plot is nothing more than what happens in the story.

Plots are fairly simple. They are, broadly speaking, some manner of:

  • Adventure or Quest
  • Love story
  • Puzzle
  • Seeking of Vengeance or Justice
  • Pursuit or Escape
  • Self-Discovery

What makes a story, however, is not the plot. It’s the characters. As Ray Bradbury advised writers: create your characters, let them do their thing, and there’s your story.

Recently, my wife and I watched the movies Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. The movies were written by Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy, and directed by Richard Linklater. They tell the story of Jesse and Céline who meet by accident on a train and eventually become parents of twin girls.

The movies are described as “minimalist” because nothing much outwardly happens in them. Each movie focuses on Jesse and Céline talking about life. The only movement is that in each movie the action, such as it is, takes place in the span of one day. Which means the storyline is driven by the shortness or brevity of the time factor. A standard technique used to induce suspense or a sense of urgency.

Personally, I think the movies are brilliant examples of what the “plotless” tale is all about. Which is the characters. These movies are in depth character studies. Through dialogue alone — often what isn’t said being as or more important than what is said — the writer tells a tale that is profoundly moving.

In Before Sunrise, Jesse, an American tourist in Europe, accidentally meets Céline on a train bound from Budapest to Vienna, where he will catch his flight back to the states. On a whim, Jesse asks Céline to spend the day with him before he has to catch his flight. She agrees.

The rest of the movie is nothing more than the two walking around Vienna talking and sharing little experiences together. In the course of the day, they fall in love, and promise each other to meet at the train station in six months. They also agree not to exchange any contact information.

Before Sunset picks up the story nine years later. Jesse is in Paris on the last day of a book tour. He is now married, with a son, and is an acclaimed author, having turned his one day love affair with Céline into a successful novel. Céline learns he is in Paris and shows up at the book shop where he’s giving a talk and autographing books.

After his talk, he and Celine leave the shop with the intention to get a cup of coffee and catch up on what has happened with each other. The shopkeeper reminds Jesse as he leaves he needs to be back in one hour to catch his flight. The two walk to a coffee shop and then begin walking around Paris talking about their lives. In the course of their conversation, we learn Jesse flew to Vienna to meet Céline. She, however, didn’t show because her grandmother had died. Eventually they end up at Céline’s apartment and Jesse misses his flight back to the States.

The final film in the trilogy, Before Midnight, takes place eighteen years later. Jesse and Céline are in Greece. They are now a couple with twin girls. Jesse’s son from his ex-wife flies home at the beginning of the movie. The parting of the father and son sets up one side of the conflict. On the other, Céline wants to take a new job with the French government, feeling unfulfilled in her current job.

The couple have been given a night in a hotel for a romantic evening. However, the night turns into a battle of angst and wills and agendas, climaxing with Céline saying she doesn’t love Jesse anymore and leaves.

Jesse finds Céline after a time. She wants to be alone but he asks her to listen to him and she relents. He tells a story and Céline eventually thaws. The ending of the movie is somewhat ambiguous, but we’re left with the feeling they stay together.

What I love about these movies is that through dialogue alone we learn of the hopes and fears, the dreams, and the failures of two ordinary people. How chance events can change one’s life forever. And that no matter what, we always have choices.

I think the movies should be seen close together, much like the Mad Max movies, in order to keep the story flow fresh in ones mind. They are fabulous films. A testimony to the power of character over plot.

As always, I appreciate your comments. And until next time, happy reading!

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8-Fold Path: Silence, Where and When

Silence is the gateway to better health, both mentally and physically, as well as being the gateway to a richer spiritual life.

However, we are so busy and noise is everywhere. Where and when can we get in a little silence? I’ll cover this in more detail when I get into the eight steps themselves. For now, though, I’ll give you a few ideas for where and when you can practice silence.

Where

This is probably the easier of the two. Because you can practice silence anywhere. If you have in hand a good pair of earplugs, then you can have silence wherever you are and wherever you go. Just pop those little wonders into your ears and, voilà!, instant quiet and peace.

One place that’s easy to enjoy silence is in your car. Just turn off all the noisemaking gadgets while you’re driving. Aside from road noise, your car is a fairly quiet place. And if your house is too noisy, you can always go sit in your car. Tilt the seat back a little and enjoy the quiet.

There are also places in your house that are fairly quiet. Go there. If kids or spouse have a tendency to interrupt, tell them not to bother you for the next 10 or 15 minutes, or however long you need.

Noise is distracting. Even if it’s your favorite song. And even more so if you’re driving and talking on your phone, or dictating, or listening to a book or a report. And distracted driving has been known to kill people.

When

Where you can practice silence is rendered fairly easy thanks to earplugs. When is a bit more restrictive.

Obviously there are times we must be social. The dinner table, for example, or a team meeting. A business meeting or social gathering. And that’s okay. After all, we are social creatures.

There are, though, many opportunities in a day when one can practice silence.

Early morning or late at night are excellent times to do so. Or when one is alone. I find an early morning walk in the neighborhood park to be very conducive for experiencing silence. The mothers and their children have not yet descended upon the place.

I had times at work where I could spend a few minutes in an empty room to get a bit of quiet.

The 8-Fold Path

Next week I’ll begin going step-by-step through the 8-Fold Path. Each step will enhance our appreciation of silence, as well as gain us the peace and tranquility that comes with silence.

If you’ve had experiences with silence, I’d love to hear about them.

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How I Choose What To Read

The other day I finished reading a novel (An Unsubstantiated Chamber by William J Jackson — do yourself a favor and get a copy) and was looking over my library to see what I wanted to read next.

With a couple thousand titles to choose from I was having a bit of a dilemma. Fiction or nonfiction? Sci-fi or mystery? Fantasy or horror? Or maybe a classic? I couldn’t make up my mind.

Then I got to thinking about Kate Summer’s article, which I’d talked about previously. I re-read the article and discovered, after I thought about it, in the matter of choosing books I was no different than most men.

I’m not a bookclub member. I don’t look to Twitter, Facebook, or G+ for recommendations. I can’t stand the clunky and cluttered layout of Goodreads and no longer go there.

Instead, I get recommendations from friends, online book reviews, or online recommendations from blogposts, podcasts, or the like. I also search Google or Amazon for books related to my interests, both fiction and nonfiction. For example, I like airships and regularly look for fiction and nonfiction books related to airships.

Of the methods listed above, getting recommendations from friends is probably the method I use the least.

Women, on the other hand, tend to be very social and tell others what they’re reading, or want to read, or freely ask who’s reading what. That is something most men simply do not do.

When I look at my own habits regarding reading, I do not usually talk about what I’m reading. On occasion I will tweet #amreading. But that has more to do with helping spread the word about other authors’s work, than it is me wanting to share with the world what I’m reading. The same with the writing of reviews.

So I find that I’m pretty much like most men when it comes to choosing a book to read and talking about what I’m reading, or more accurately not talking about what I’m reading.

Getting back to that book that I wanted to read, I ended up choosing Terry Newman’s Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf. Now you may ask why did I choose that particular book and the answer is pretty simple.

Sometime ago Mr. Newman followed me on Twitter and we got to talking about our books and interests. I went over to Amazon and took a look at his book, read the reviews, took a look inside, and liked what I saw. In addition, Harper Collins only wanted $2.99 for the Kindle edition. $2.99 from a Big 5 Publisher is a rarity and I decided to buy. Even though I have a no new Big 5 book purchase policy.

My discussion with the author got me looking, but it was the writing and the reviews that got me buying. Pretty much a solitary decision-making process.

And if you’re looking for a book to read, take a look at Mr Newman’s fantasy mystery, it’s very good. And it’s still only $2.99!

By the way, if you have any recommendations for those you-just-gotta-read-this-book books, please tell me about them in the comments.

Until next time, happy reading!

PS — The 8-Fold Path has moved to Thursdays. See you then!

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The 8-Fold Path: What is Silence?

We know what sound is, both pleasant and unpleasant. What, though, is this silence I’ve been talking about? What do I mean by experiencing silence?

There are two aspects to silence. One is freedom from the external noise we all must contend with. The ever pervasive deluge of sound pounding on our ears and even on our bodies.

The other is inner silence. Wait! There’s sound within us? The short answer is yes. The long answer and what we can do about it I’ll come to in a moment.

Our Outer World

Noise pollution is rampant in our urban and suburban worlds. And we add to this noise voluntarily. The TV. Our phones. The chimes our computers make and the noise from many websites we may visit. The radio. People we associate with. Music.

External to us is wanted and unwanted sound.

The other side of the coin is silence. This may be absolute silence, the complete absence of sound, or it may be the silence of nature. I can hear you say, “Wait a minute! Nature is silent? There are all manner of sounds in the park and in the woods.” And you are right. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

Absolute silence is not easy to obtain in our modern world. A soundproof room is one way to go about it. And that is a very nice experience.

On my retreats, the cabins, hermitages, were soundproof. They were built so tightly, the retreat management advised that one should open the windows, at least a couple of them, an inch or two, in order to let fresh air in. This was especially needed if you burned candles, or used the gas light, or gas burner.

Yet even with a couple windows slightly open, I heard no external sound. There was freedom from noise, unless I made it.

Experiencing a soundproof room in a natural setting is something I think everyone should experience. It is totally awesome.

The other perhaps more easily obtainable way to achieve absolute silence is to use earplugs. I can hear you say, “What?” Yes, earplugs. There is a reason health officials recommend ear protection when you use loud noise producing tools or are in a noisy environment. Noise destroys your hearing.

When I want, or need, to reduce or even eliminate outside noise I pop in a pair of disposable earplugs. There are many different brands that reduce noise by varying decibel levels. I happen to use Hearos. The ones with a noise reduction rating of 33, which means the noise coming into your ear is reduced by 33 decibels.

I found NRR 33 earplugs highly effective at virtually eliminating noise in the office, at home, and on airplanes. What you get is silence. There are also noise isolating headphones, which for a higher price eliminate even more noise.

Natural Sound

Nature is replete with sound. Or at least can be. Crickets and cicadas on a summer evening. The crows or mourning doves can produce quite a racket. One I don’t find soothing.

But there are plenty of natural sounds that are very soothing. The wind stirring dried leaves in the autumn. The rain. A waterfall. There are, though, times when the natural world is silent. Winter is the best time to experience that or in a very isolated location like Chaco Canyon, for instance.

I’ve experienced rural winter silence. Absolutely no sound. It is spectacularly awesome and supremely peace inducing. A former co-worker said the same about her time at Chaco Canyon. The place is so remote there are times of absolute silence that will take your breath away.

Natural sounds are not bad. In fact, they are usually very good due to their soothing effect on us. Let’s face it. Our world has advanced. Our bodies have not. We’ve had very little physically significant change in over several hundred thousand years.

That’s why our world and it’s noise is so stressful. The primitive part of our brain, the part that runs all of our automatic systems, still thinks we are in the jungle, or the forest, or the savanna. And it reacts accordingly to all outside stimuli.

Even with a high degree of self-control, we still feel the effects of the “snake brain’s” autopilot responses to our world. One reason so many of us suffer from stress, anxiety, or those sleepless nights.

The sounds of nature can soothe away those feelings. And so can earplugs by eliminating the sounds that stress us.

Our Inner World

We have noisy minds. We are constantly thinking, complaining, getting even, planning our next meal, contemplating what to buy, and the list goes on. Every meditation technique is designed to still the mind. To get it to stop thinking. To stop planning. To stop worrying.

Our minds, the front part of our brains, are designed to solve problems. If our mind doesn’t have a problem to solve, it will create one. Our mind doesn’t want to be empty. It doesn’t want nothing to do.

In meditation, we basically redirect our mind to focus on something other than problem solving — real or imagined.

There are many ways to meditate. A walk in the woods or the park, where you focus on the natural world, is an excellent way to redirect the mind. To get it out of problem-solving mode.

Sitting and focusing on your breathing is another tried and true method.

My favorite is to sit and let thoughts just wander through my mind. I watch them enter and leave, as it were, not focusing on any particular one. If I sit long enough, the thoughts cease. It’s as if my mind has gotten tired of trying to interest me in a problem. That’s when my mind becomes truly silent.

Additional Thoughts

It does us little good to shut out the noise coming from outside of us, if our minds take up the slack and run rampant with inner noise. That inner noise can produce stress and anxiety just like outer noise.

The 8-Fold Path helps us to deal with both kinds of noise.

Next week, I’ll talk about where and when we can practice silence. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

Until then, unleash your inner quiet and enjoy the stillness.

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The 8-Fold Path: Why Silence?

Last week I touched on the benefits of silence. And that we don’t have a lot of silence in our daily lives. We are inundated with sound: some of our own choosing, most not. While I’m writing this, the “roar” of the forced air heating is quite significant. When it stops, there is a noticeable return to quiet for a few moments until a truck roars by on the busy county road I live just off of.

A quick search of the internet will give us dozens of reasons why silence is beneficial; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Let’s take a look at a few of the physical and mental benefits daily periods of silence can give us.

THE BRAIN

Daily periods of silence can improve our brains. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that walking three times in a week for 40 minutes improved spatial memory.

If we can change our setting, we give the brain something different to focus on and correlate with known data.

Most of us live in urban or suburban settings. If possible, take a walk in a park or some other natural setting. The greater the difference between the manmade and the natural, the better for our brains. Manmade noise tends to grate on our nerves. Natural sounds are much more soothing.

Go walking — without the iPod — in a natural setting. Let the natural sounds lave you with peace and tranquility.

In addition, regular periods of silence can actually stimulate brain growth.

A 2013 study, published in Brain Structure And Function, found sitting in silence for at least two hours a day could stimulate the creation of the new brain cells related to our ability to learn, remember, and emotions.

At least two hours, you may say? Who has time for that? Indeed. We live busy lives. Although some of us may have the time and that is a wonderful thing. However if you do not, I think the 8-Fold Path can help you by giving you a lifestyle of silence.

STRESS

Almost all of us are stressed. We live in a stressful world. Noise can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones — and who wants that?

Sometimes we resort to relaxing music or white noise to try relieving the stress we feel. The problem is music, no matter how relaxing, and white noise are still noise.

Silence, on the other hand, is the anti-noise, as it were. A 2006 study, which appeared in Heart, found that just two minutes of silence can release tension buildup in the body and in the mind. That sounds like a good deal to me. After all it’s only two minutes. Surely we have that much time to give to relieving stress.

INSOMNIA

It’s the pits when you can’t get to sleep. I used to hate it when it happened to me. There was nothing left to do but get up and perhaps read for a while until I felt tired.

On the other hand, daily silence can come to the rescue.

A 2015 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found older adults who meditated had fewer episodes of depression, fatigue, and insomnia. And meditation is done in silence.

Sitting in meditation breaks the routine of busyness and noise in our lives and can break the never ending monologue our minds at times embark on.

I know from personal experience sitting in meditation and letting my mind just drift through thoughts and feelings, not focusing on anything, eventually results in my mind stopping the thought process and that’s when the stress and anxiety falls away.

SENSITIVITY

From personal experience I can tell you silence increases one’s sensitivity to outside stimuli. After a week of silence and solitude, my whole body became more sensitive. More sensitive to sounds, touch, sights, and even thoughts, my own and others. I even think my poor hearing improved for a time. At least people could speak a bit more softly, until things went back to normal.

SUMMARY

Daily practice of silence can be very beneficial, both physically and mentally. A lifestyle of silence even more so. And that’s just on the physical and mental plane.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, I believe the practice of silence, coupled with its companion solitude, can do wonders for your soul. In a sense, silence can pull you out of yourself and take you to a place where you can, even for a moment, touch that which is beyond us.

The late Canadian psychiatrist, Dr R.M. Bucke, wrote of his experience in his book Cosmic Consciousness. Dr Bucke wrote that after a wonderful evening with friends, on the long ride home, late at night, he was “in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind.” In other words, Dr Bucke was unconsciously meditating in silence. What happened next changed his life forever. Here are his words:

All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exaltation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life.

Those of faith will see Dr Bucke’s testimony as evidence of their beliefs. Those not of faith will possibly attribute his vision to some other cause. For myself, I see a man who was not especially religious in the span of a few moments suddenly become convinced there is something beyond himself. Dr Bucke’s experience is, however, indicative of what many mystics have found to be true: silence and solitude can connect one with the beyond.

Most of us, though, are probably seeking a more day to day benefit. And silence certainly provides that. However, as with any practice, you get out of it what you put into it. If you simply want less stress and better memory, silence can help you achieve some of that. And less stress, along with better mind function, is a very good reason to start your journey into silence. And who knows where it may end.

Next time we’ll explore just exactly what is this silence I’m talking about.

Until then, take some time, each day is preferable, to just unplug and get away to a place with minimal noise. Then just let your mind drift, not focusing on anything. Let me know what you think.

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The 8-Fold Path

Noise is all around us. It is part of our daily lives. Silence is a rare commodity. Something not true up to 100 or 125 years ago.

And with all that noise pollution our bodies suffer: hearing loss, tinnitus, and sleep problems to name but three.

A few years ago I went on two silence and solitude retreats. I’m lucky to have a retreat center about an hour’s drive away. Both times I spent a week at the center. The retreat was unguided. Just me, my hermitage, and a beautiful lake, prairie, and woods.

Unfortunately, even there in that pristine environment urban noise could be heard in the muffled distance. But inside the soundproofed hermitage, there was no noise. There was silence and a beautiful view out the picture window of nature in all her glory.

For a time I owned a hobby farm in very rural northeastern Iowa. Beautiful country. Hilly, wooded, and dotted with small farms. Spring and autumn did bring with them the sounds of tractors at work. Summer, the sound of insects and cattle lowing. However, it was in winter that silence reigned. For many minutes at a time one might hear absolutely nothing. Nothing. And then a pick up truck might drive by on the road some distance away. When it was gone, the silence returned.

In those moments of absolute silence in the winter on my hobby farm or sitting inside my hermitage, looking at the trees and the lake, a peace would descend upon me and fill my soul.

I’m not one for organized religion. To tell the truth, I’m not into religion at all (although I do have an affinity for mysticism). However, in those moments of silence, it was as though I’d been transported to something beyond myself. The experience was indeed mystical. “Be still and know that I am God.” The psalmist was definitely on to something. Or Elijah, in the cave, where he heard God — not in the noise — but in the still, small voice.

Silence is golden. In the cacophony surrounding us that truth is easy to forget. In stillness, free from sound, I am free to know myself. In solitude, away from others, I must come to grips with who I am. Then and there I come to the realization if I’m truly someone whose company is desirable. For if I’m not likable to myself, how can I like others? If I do not love myself, how can I truly love others?

Not all of us, though, can take the time off to go on an extended retreat. Although I do recommend you give it a try. The experience can be life-changing. But for those who can’t afford a retreat, there is an alternative.

Over the next several weeks I want to share with you a way I found to capture the beauty of silence and to live in that silence every day. And you don’t have to become a hermit or retire to a cloister to do it. The method will work for everyone everywhere. It is independent of faith or philosophy, although either can enrich the method.

I call it The Eight Fold Path For Living Daily In The Silence.

I hope you’ll walk with me on this path and in so doing reap the benefits of silence, and its companion solitude.

Comments are always welcome. If you’ve experience the joy of silence and solitude, please share your experience. Until next time, peace!

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